News from the front: How do we know what’s going on?

WHY NO REPORTING OF AFGHANISTAN CASUALTIES?

Afghanistan_&_American_soldiers_in_Tora_Bora

Afghanistan & American soldiers in Tora Bora

It galls my friend Bob Faro, a veterans advocate in the Lehigh Valley, that local newspapers publish little on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars “unless it is reactive, as in a local service member’s death.”

His son Joey, a 19-year-old Marine, was seriously wounded by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan a few weeks ago and is being treated at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. “I ask just as I have with every known service member being injured,” he said in an e-mail to me and others, “why no reporting?”

I don’t think it’s deliberate.

Mainly, there is no central, authoritative clearinghouse for information on wounded soldiers, sailors and Marines. In the case of deaths, the Department of Defense makes it easy: It posts name, rank, hometown, branch of service, unit and cause of death on its website for all to see. Newspapers and other media take it from there. http://www.defense.gov/releases/

THE WAY IT USED TO BE

Things were different not so very long ago, during World War II.

The paper I work for, The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania, has clip files in its newsroom library that prove it.

In the old days, a paper’s employees cut out stories about people and put them in small brown envelopes. The cutouts are called clips. The envelopes were filed in alphabetical order in a metal cabinet in a room that used to be called a “morgue.” One file might have clips covering a person’s life from birth to death.

The veteran I interviewed for my story marking the 66th anniversary of D-Day, E. Duncan Cameron, was a 1940 graduate of Allentown High School. He hit Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Sure enough, The Call has a clip file on him. It’s similar to Morning Call files I’ve seen on other World War II vets. Not only is there a story about his getting wounded, but an update on his recovery.

45th Division roadblock, Battle of the Bulge, 1944

45th Division roadblock, Battle of the Bulge, 1944

There is a clip on what happened to him three months after D-Day: “E. Duncan Cameron Wounded in Germany.” The paper got the news from his parents, who had gotten a letter from Duncan and showed it to the newspaper. “Was hit in the left arm by shrapnel from a mortar shell, the shrapnel penetrating the arm just above the wrist,” Duncan wrote.

The story ran with a photo his parents had previously given the paper. The picture was used first with a June 23, 1944, story headlined: “Pfc. E.D. Cameron Jr. Sends Letter Home From Invasion Front.”

Another clip, dated March 6, 1945, reported that Duncan was home on furlough from the hospital in Tennessee where doctors had grafted a bone to his wrist. Again, the story ran with a photo.

It was a different time. The community that a newspaper served was closer-knit than it is today.

MY OWN EXPERIENCE WITH THE VIETNAM WAR

That intimacy was gone just a generation later, when the sons of World War II vets were fighting in Vietnam.

Nicky Vendetta home in Malvern, Pennsylvania, 1969

Nicky Venditti home in Malvern, 1969

My cousin Nicky Venditti came from little Malvern, Pennsylvania. The local paper was in the neighboring town, West Chester. Nicky joined the Army, became a helicopter pilot, arrived in Vietnam on the Fourth of July 1969 and was gravely wounded in a grenade explosion six days later. There was nothing in the paper about it.

Nicky, the subject of my book, Quiet Man Rising: A Soldier’s Life and Death in Vietnam, hung on to life for almost a week at an evacuation hospital in Vietnam.

The Daily Local News of West Chester did not have a story until July 21, seven days after his death. “The Defense Department reported only that Warrant Officer Nicholas L. Venditti died in a military hospital [in Vietnam] on July 15,” the paper said. There was nothing from his family in the story, and no indication the paper tried to contact them.

It wasn’t necessary.

Within hours after his parents got the telegram saying Nicky had been hit and there was “cause for concern,” everyone who cared about him knew it.

They knew it by the oldest means of passing on information – a method that still hasn’t lost its potency.

Word of mouth.

2 responses to “News from the front: How do we know what’s going on?

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